Dad Daze: Parenting courtesy of HBO's 'Mare of Easttown'

·5 min read

Jun. 6—The high soap quotient of HBO's latest critically acclaimed series, "Mare of Easttown," couldn't help but garner attention. It's understandable since the residents of a fictitious Philadelphia suburb have been impacted with more afflictions and setbacks than Job.

Brain cancer, heroin and opioid addiction, homicide, suicide, divorce, kidnapping, possible pedophilia by a priest, philandering and incest were all worked into the plot of season one of the entertaining series. Also, a serial killer, straight out of "The Silence of the Lambs," lurked in the bleak burb filled with an abundance of flawed characters. About the only thing not plaguing Easttown is a pandemic.

Despite how over the top "Mare of Easttown" was during its seven-episode run, which ended the prior Sunday, there is plenty to enjoy. Kate Winslet, the title character, an overwhelmed detective, and Jean Smart, who perfectly plays her boozy but caring mother, are fantastic. Both look and sound the part. The latter is very impressive since the Philadelphia accent (water is pronounced wooder) is so tough to pull off, most actors don't even attempt it.

But what hasn't received notice is how the characters parent. While the drama is extraordinary, the dialogue hits home. The discord in the multi-generational house of Mare's mom that includes Mare, her daughter Siobhan and grandson Ryan, is relatable. Every family has at least a little dysfunction, but there's a great deal for Mare and her neighbors.

It's fascinating experiencing the intensity most characters possess as parents. "Sometimes, I wonder if you even realize how much I love you," the forlorn character Erin McMenamin whispers to her baby in the opening episode. The teen mom, who is doing whatever she can to raise funds for her child's ear surgery, stares into his eyes. "Your grandma used to say, 'You'll understand when you're a parent.' " McMenamin is referring to her late mother. "I was always like, 'Yeah, whatever.' But it's, like, you can love someone so much, it's scary."

That line couldn't be more true, and the reality is that it's not evident until you become a parent. The show is a reminder of how much our lives change when we have children. Bringing a child into this cruel and uncertain world is a huge risk that parents don't normally think about when considering having a baby. So much can go wrong. Mare's son, who was stricken with depression, commits suicide not long after becoming a parent. Since his addict wife isn't capable of raising a child, Mare raises the toddler and loves him as if he were her own.

A pair of Mare's high school friends are a wreck. Dawn suffers from brain cancer and is a shell of herself after her daughter's yearlong disappearance. Mare's closest pal Lori chooses to protect her son after he commits an unimaginable act.

After watching all seven episodes, you're drained, and you wonder how far you would go to save your children after they crossed a legal line. "Mare of Easttown" reminds me of the movie "Before and After." The film stars Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson as parents. The latter covers up for his son after he accidentally kills his girlfriend. The film failed to have much of an impact on me when it was released a quarter century ago since I had yet to become a father.

While catching it recently, I was gripped by Neeson's performance and his character's willingness to do anything for his son. Fortunately, I've never been in a situation to ever think about protecting my children from committing a heinous crime. But the well-written "Before and After" and the at-times-riveting "Mare of Easttown" triggered some what-if conversations with friends.

I can't imagine ever taking such a risk and, perhaps due to my 12 years of Catholic education, I believe the truth is the best route. Also, I can't imagine living a lie, looking over my shoulder every day. But one friend admitted that he would do whatever it took to help his children escape. "I couldn't handle it if one of my kids were in prison," he said. "If I had the opportunity to help cover up, it would be very tempting."

That makes one of us. That's not because I'm a saint, but that's a lot to live with — and you can't hide reality forever. But what I enjoyed most about "Mare of Easttown" is that there was at least a shard of reality when it comes to the child characters who are often unrealistic. The Easttown kids are imperfect and show an array of emotions. The children of Easttown are funny, irrational, mean, understanding, caring and so much more. The Easttown parents are often confused, disappointed and lost.

Sometimes, I'm each of those. My children often believe that they know it all, and I can't tell them anything — and it reminds me that I have more questions than answers as I age. And it's OK. All we can try to do as parents reminds me of the title of one of Spike Lee's greatest films, "Do the Right Thing." But we can experience the wild drama of shows like "Mare of Easttown" and be thankful that a Hollywood screenwriter isn't scripting our lives.

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